Democrats Propose Indigent Burial Reform
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
Grave markers at Oatka Cemetery tell a story of local residents, some buried well over a century ago.
"You see a very bucolic view of what everyone thinks a country cemetery should look like," said Monroe County Legislator Cindy Kaleh.
But the cemetery also tells another story. One of Monroe County's poor and forgotten. Some with modest grave markers. Some with no identifying information at all.
"These are not the conditions that any of us should accept or be comfortable with," said Kaleh.
Advocates for the poor and Democrats on the Monroe County Legislature are calling for higher standards for the county's indigent burial program. When poor families lose a loved one, the county pays for final arrangements, which usually include cremation, and burial at Oatka.
"What happens, in the time they should be mourning their loved ones," said Father Larry Tracy, an advocate for the poor. "They're running around to the streets, churches, friends, relatives to try and get additional money to provide a decent burial."
The county provides grants up to $1,250 for burial. That figure was cut by $600 six years ago. The departed are buried in modest graves at the south end of Oatka. The grave sites are unkempt. Weeds cover name placards. Some, are not marked at all.
"There's little effort at this point," Kaleh said.
Legislator Kaleh's plan would ensure minimum standards, better than what now exists...for burying the county's poor.
"We need to change the way we do business in this respect," said Kaleh. "We need to give dignity to those that we give help."
Earlier this summer Democrats on the legislature released a proposal which would have not only raised standards of burial for Monroe County's poor, it would have increased the money available. It was promptly shot down by legislature Republicans.
"We are more generous than a lot of counties across New York State in terms of what we provide for indigent burials," explains Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.
Brooks said the county has held the level on burial grants, even though the state has cut it's share. She doesn't expect many wholesale changes to the indigent burial plan.
"There are very passionate advocates in the community and I understand their passion. But it's not democrat," Brooks said. "It's not republican and we really need to look at it from a non-emotional perspective so that we're serving these families to the best of our ability."
"We want them to understand what it's like when poor people come to us, practically every day, begging us to help them so they can have a dignified burial," said Sister Grace Miller, advocate for the poor.
Democrats are hopeful that their reforms get consideration in the Republican-controlled legislature, when it's considered at the body's Agenda Charter Committee meeting next week..
"We believe the county has a responsibility to take care of our poor in life," Sister Miller said. "And in death."